THE BLOG
09/25/2012 11:08 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2012

64th Emmy Awards: Setting the Record Straight

Jimmy Kimmel's opening statement honoring Philo T. Farnsworth as the creator of the American television at the 64th Emmy Awards was incorrect. It was in fact, General David Sarnoff, who created the American Television Industry as we know it today.

There has been considerable debate over the years about David Sarnoff and Philo Farnsworth, and it is odd that it has seemingly come to the surface again at this time. It is true that David Sarnoff attempted to protect and further the interests of RCA, as that was his responsibility to the Company for which he worked.

Farnsworth was one of the creators, perhaps the first, of a practical means of electronic image scanning -- the basis of television as we know it. Vladimir Zworykin created a similar invention at about the same time. Farnsworth's system dissected the electronic image into picture elements which were then transmitted through a small aperture in an electrical shutter. Zworykin's system focused electrons into a beam. Both systems supplanted the previous experimental mechanical disc system which would never have succeeded commercially.

Farnsworth applied for a patent on his system in 1927 and first demonstrated it that year. Sarnoff and Zworykin got together in 1929, and Zworykin perfected his system (the iconoscope) for RCA. Sarnoff was unable to make a satisfactory deal with Farnsworth to buy his invention, and Farnsworth ultimately won a patent suit in Court. RCA eventually made a licensing deal, and both Farnsworth and Zworykin received credit for starting electronic television. Sarnoff never denied Farnsworth's contribution and, in fact, gave him public recognition for it.

The debate over who should get credit as the "Father of Television" is pointless. One developed an electronic means of sending and receiving the picture signals, and the other imagined and created the Industry that used an electronic technique and brought it to market. Sarnoff spent $50,000,000 of RCA's money on the development of black-and-white TV and another $100,000,000 on the development of Color TV. Without that, it is doubtful that either Farnsworth's or Zworykin's inventions would ever have reached fulfillment.

David Sarnoff was a dreamer and a visionary, but he was also a "doer". In 1916, he wrote a memo to his bosses at the Marconi Company saying, "I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a household utility in the same sense as a piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring music into the home by wireless, via the "RADIO MUSIC BOX". That was the start of the Radio Industry.

In 1923, four years before Farnsworth's patent application and actually the year in which Zworykin invented his iconoscope David Sarnoff wrote a memo to the Board of RCA saying "I believe that television, which is the technical name for seeing as well as hearing by radio, will come to pass in due course .... It may be that every broadcast receiver for home use in the future will also be equipped with a television adjunct by which the instrument will make it possible for those at home to see as well as hear what is going on at the broadcast station." That was the start of the Television Industry.

Mr. Farnsworth, a brilliant inventor and television pioneer, made multiple and important contributions to the nascent electronics industry in the 1930s and throughout the early developmental stages of television, including creating the first practical application of an all-electronic image pickup device otherwise known as the 'video camera tube', and the "image dissector".

In spite of Mr. Farnsworth's significant achievements in the early years, it was David Sarnoff, while working for The Radio Corporation of America (RCA), who created the red and blue networks which at the time represented the only two viable and commercial television networks in the United States.

The history of American (not British) television began in 1926, when Sarnoff, pioneered the electronic vision, developed the infrastructure, distribution, and marketing of this new revolutionary technical medium. Known as the NBC red and NBC blue networks, was born in the maelstrom of the First World War, a multitude of failed technical models, non-commercial applications, stringent government regulations, patent wars, unbridled growth pangs and much like the Internet, a black hole of uncertainties where only select individuals and corporations had the vision and deep pockets to harness and commercialize the applications in order to reap handsome rewards.

By 1943, the NBC blue network (as it was originally named), had to divest itself from the red network, as a result of FCC restrictions limiting the ownership of 'air rights' and renamed, The American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The third network that created a triangle of competition until today was, Columbia Broadcasting Systems, (CBS), built and controlled until his death by William Paley.

It was under the General's vision, leadership, and investment capabilities that the American Television Industry grew into what it is today although Farnsworth did indeed play a pivotal role when he created the 'video camera tube'.

One last historical fact, the Emmy's, was created by Syd Cassyd in 1948. He presented the first "Emmy" in 1949 in Los Angeles although the show was not aired on any of the television networks until much later. It was not until the General's youngest son, Thomas W. Sarnoff, began to work for NBC in 1952 that he successfully negotiated the deal between NBC and The Academy which allowed the show to air in 1953.

The name "Emmy" came from one of the early Presidents of the Academy, Harry Lubcke, who suggested "Immy" from the Image Orthicon. It was changed by the Academy to "Emmy" to conform to the statuette. One of the original Image Orthicon's or "Immy's", was housed- for many years- at the David Sarnoff Research Center and later given to the David Sarnoff Library in Princeton, New Jersey.

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